Thursday, July 9, 2015

Aristotle’s four causes versus pantheism


For the Platonist, the essences or natures of the things of our experience are not in the things themselves, but exist in the Platonic “third realm.”  The essence or nature of a tree, for example, is not to be looked for in the tree itself, but in the Form of Tree; the essence of a man is not to be looked for in any human being but rather in the Form of Man; and so forth.  Now, if the essence of being a tree (treeness, if you will) is not to be found in a tree, nor the essence of being a man (humanness) in a man, then it is hard to see how what we ordinarily call a tree really exists as a tree, or how what we call a man really exists as a man.  Indeed, the trees and men we see are said by Plato merely imperfectly to “resemble” something else, namely the Forms.  So, what we call a tree seems at the end of the day to be no more genuinely tree-like than a statue or mirror image of a tree is; what we call a man seems no more genuinely human than a statue or mirror image of a man is; and so forth.
 
The implication is that trees, men, and the like are not true substances.  Only the Forms are true substances.  The world of experience is insubstantial, Heraclitean, a realm of confused reflections and shadows of the true, Platonic world.  When we add to this the Neo-Platonic/Augustinian thesis that the Forms are really just ideas in the divine intellect, then that divine intellect becomes the true substance.  And the insubstantial world of our experience becomes a confused reflection or shadow of God.  There is a thin line between such a view and pantheism.

Avoiding such a result requires putting treeness back into trees, humanness back into men, and in general the forms or essences of things back into the things themselves.  It requires, in other words, an Aristotelian rather than Platonic conception of form -- form as formal cause, and in particular as substantial form, an immanent or “built in” principle rather than an extrinsic one.  Removing formal cause out of the world and putting it elsewhere removes substance out of the world and relocates it elsewhere. 

I’ve discussed many times (e.g. here) how a similar result follows when efficient cause is entirely removed from the world and relocated in God, as in occasionalism.  Since agere sequitur esse (“action follows being” or “activity follows existence”), if nothing in the world of our experience really does anything and God does everything, then nothing in the world really has any being, and only God has it.  What we think of as the world is really just God in action.  Again, pantheism.

I’ve also discussed many times (e.g. here) how removing final cause from the world and relocating it entirely in God -- as Paley-style design arguments essentially do -- has the same effect.  For efficient cause (the Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysician argues) presupposes final cause.  Remove the latter and you thereby remove the former.  And if you relocate them in God you’re implicitly back in an occasionalist position, with pantheism as the sequel -- whether or not you actually draw the inferences.  (For further discussion of final causality, efficient causality, and occasionalism, see my essays “Between Aristotle and William Paley: Aquinas’s Fifth Way” and “Natural Theology Must Be Grounded in the Philosophy of Nature, Not in Natural Science, “ both available in Neo-Scholastic Essays.) 

So, avoiding occasionalism and thus pantheism also requires affirmation of immanent causal power and immanent teleology -- again, Aristotelian efficient and final causes.

Entirely removing material cause from the world is the most obvious road to pantheism.  The material cause of a thing is, to put it crudely, what it’s made of.  When you say, as Spinoza and other pantheists do, that the things of our experience are really modes of God, you are in effect making God their material cause.  Thus, if instead you say that things have a material cause that is distinct from God and internal to the things themselves, you are thereby rejecting pantheism.

To do that, though, you need (once again) to affirm the other three Aristotelian causes too.  Matter without substantial form is pure potentiality, and thus in no way actual.  So, for things really to have a material cause immanent to them, they also need an Aristotelian formal cause.  They need, as well, immanent teleology or finality, since a potentiality (and thus matter) is always a potentiality for some outcome or range of outcomes (an extremely wide one in the case of prime matter or pure potentiality for reception of form).  And they need also immanent efficient causal power, since (again) agere sequitur esse, so that a material thing that could do nothing would be nothing.

The bottom line is that the Aristotelian doctrine of the four causes is essential to avoiding pantheism and views which tend to approximate pantheism (such as Gnosticism). 

Why is it important to avoid such views?  Well, for one thing, they’re false.  The arguments that show that God exists also show (we Aristotelian-Scholastic types claim) that he is utterly distinct from the world.  And there are theological dangers in blurring this distinction.  Such blurring tends, naturally, either to divinize the world or to secularize God.  It divinizes the world to the extent that the blurring leads one to ascribe divine attributes to the world (e.g. ultimacy, holiness, perfect goodness, etc.).  It secularizes God to the extent that it leads one to ascribe the world’s characteristics to God (e.g. changeability, temporality, composition of parts as opposed to simplicity).  The proximate implication of both tendencies is idolatry; their remote implication is atheism. 

Idolatry results either when one directs toward the world attitudes appropriately directed only toward God (as in the nature worship characteristic of extreme environmentalism), or when one’s conception of God is so deficient that one essentially makes of God a creature (as in theological views that attribute to the divine nature a material body, or changeability, or metaphysical parts, or ignorance of future events).  (As I’ve argued before, some conceptions of God can be so deficient that even the believer who uses the language of classical theism may in fact be directing his worship toward something other than God.) 

One way atheism can result is when the pantheistic “collapse” of God into the world goes so far that the characteristically divine elements of the picture drop out.  If it is really the world that is the ultimate reality anyway, then why bother with the “God” stuff?  It’s simpler just to speak of the world and leave it at that.  Another way atheism can result is when God ends up seeming so creature-like that he ceases to seem God-like.  If God is changeable, can learn things like we do, is made up of parts, etc., then he’s really different from us only in degree.  He’s like a wizard, or an extraterrestrial, or a superhero, or a ghost or other spirit.  And in that case he’s really just another part of the natural world broadly construed -- not really God at all, as traditionally understood -- and the question whether he exists is no more relevant to the truth of naturalism than is the question whether wizards or extraterrestrials exist.  (As I’ve argued before, atheism can be a reasonable response to anthropomorphic and otherwise vulgarized conceptions of God.) 

Given their theological dangers, then, it is no surprise that the Catholic Church condemns pantheism and related doctrines as heretical.  There are also moral dangers.  Recall the Scholastic doctrine that being is convertible with goodness.  They are really the same thing considered from different points of view.  (See my essay “Being, the Good, and the Guise of the Good,” also available in Neo-Scholastic Essays.)  A view which denies the reality of some aspect of the world of our experience is thus bound to deny also its goodness. 

To be sure, and as I’ve indicated, if your emphasis is on the theme that the material world is really God, then you are bound to exaggerate the goodness of the material world, to the point of idolatry.  However, if your emphasis is instead on the theme that the material world per se is unreal, then you are bound to minimize or even deny the goodness of the material world.  (As I’ve noted before, views which collapse distinctions tend to be like this -- they can be taken in radically divergent directions.)  Now, denigration of the material world is morally disastrous, since it is untrue to human nature.  Notoriously, it tends to lead to excess either in the direction of rigorism or in the direction of laxity.  For if matter, and thus the body, is unreal, then you might conclude that all indulgence of bodily appetites is gravely evil, since it locks you into unreality; but you might also conclude that all such indulgence is morally trivial, since what happens in the body -- which is unreal -- cannot affect the real you.

So, the implications of getting things wrong in metaphysics can be very far-reaching indeed, contra those fideists, nouvelle theologie types and other opponents of Scholasticism who dismiss such concerns as just so much hair-splitting.  As usual, the Scholastics knew what they were doing.  And as usual, their critics do not.

90 comments:

Craig Payne said...

"If your emphasis is on the theme that the material world is really God, then you are bound to exaggerate the goodness of the material world, to the point of idolatry. However, if your emphasis is instead on the theme that the material world per se is unreal, then you are bound to minimize or even deny the goodness of the material world. (As I’ve noted before, views which collapse distinctions tend to be like this -- they can be taken in radically divergent directions."

You all might recall Joseph Campbell (no friend of Christianity, at all) and his conversation with a Hindu yogi, as reported by Campbell himself: "Given the oneness of the universe with the Ultimate," he said (my paraphrase from memory), "how can we resist evil? How do we say no to evil when even the evil is an expression of the Ultimate?" The Hindu yogi smiled and replied, "For you and me, the way to say no is to say yes."

"Radically divergent directions," indeed--to the point of incoherence. However, I assume the yogi would just tell me I hadn't reached enlightenment yet.

John West said...

The implication is that trees, men, and the like are not true substances.  Only the Forms are true substances.  The world of experience is insubstantial, Heraclitean, a realm of confused reflections and shadows of the true, Platonic world.  When we add to this the Neo-Platonic/Augustinian thesis that the Forms are really just ideas in the divine intellect, then that divine intellect becomes the true substance.  And the insubstantial world of our experience becomes a confused reflection or shadow of God.  There is a thin line between such a view and pantheism.

Is the only difference between the Neo-Platonic view of Divine Exemplars and the Thomistic view of Divine Exemplars that, on Thomism, the essences are also in the things themselves?

Craig Payne said...

Dear John West: I wonder about the use of the word "also" in your final sentence. Would Aristotle have the essences are in the things themselves IN ADDITION TO Plato's conception of a separate, perfect reality, or would he have confined himself to forms being found in material instantiations?

Craig Payne said...

"Would Aristotle have said"

John West said...

Would Aristotle have the essences are in the things themselves IN ADDITION TO Plato's conception of a separate, perfect reality, or would he have confined himself to forms being found in material instantiations?

The latter. But Scholastic Realism is distinct from Aristotelian realism in this regard.

Craig Payne said...

Ah. Thank you.

Timocrates said...

Professor Feser,

How ought we deal with the modern mind's tendency to associate potency with activity? The association is (in a sense) natural enough; however, it tends to place the active principle more and more in matter itself, which (unless I am horribly mistaken) is definitely counter to Aristotle's thinking on the matter (puns intended). Similarly, Form becomes increasingly seen as static, which is more proper to Essence even though, of course, Essence is in fact the source of anything's dynamism, whether dynamism is understood as potentiality toward change in material beings or pure Power (I mean God's - dynamism can be understood, I think fairly, somewhat either way).

Thank you again Professor Feser for another enlightening post and God bless,
Timo.

Mihret Gelan said...

Professor Feser,

In the final analysis, how would you answer an atheist who said in light of Scholastic Metaphysics and the Thomistic Proofs for the Existence of God, that Karl Popper's Munchausen Trilemma entails in the end of the day, that all knowledge is based on one of the three options:
If we ask of any knowledge: "How do I know that it's true?", we may provide proof; yet that same question can be asked of the proof, and any subsequent proof. The Münchhausen trilemma is that we have only three options when providing proof in this situation:

The circular argument, in which theory and proof support each other (i.e. we repeat ourselves at some point)
The regressive argument, in which each proof requires a further proof, ad infinitum (i.e. we just keep giving proofs, presumably forever)
The axiomatic argument, which rests on accepted precepts (i.e. we reach some bedrock assumption or certainty)

Therefore, they may say, because we are not certain that God exists, we have no reason to be wasting our lives on this stuff because there is equal amount of possibility that God does not exist. Is all our knowledge in the end of the day based on a quantum leap to so called "self evident" axioms without any proof of those axioms? This also includes the axiom of empiricism as the first part of the acquisition of any knowledge. If Feser does not have time to answer this, can anybody else please.

Gene Callahan said...

This is very interesting, and clarifies the distinction betweens Berkeley's view (which is Augustinian: reality IS ideas in the mind of God) and the Thomistic one. But this is problematic:

"A view which denies the reality of some aspect of the world of our experience is thus bound to deny also its goodness."

For the Berkleyeran/Augustinean, they of course do not believe they ARE denying the reality of any aspect of the world: the rock in front of me is real because it is a real idea in the mind of God, and "substance" is some "I know not what" that is ADDED to the reality of the rock by philosophers. (I am not arguing here that that view is correct, I am pointing out that Berkeley etc. would quite agree with you that denying some aspect of the world is bad, but would add that inventing aspects of the world that aren't there is bad too. So my point is that this is no ADDITIONAL argument against Berkeleyean metaphysics.)

Gene Callahan said...

Mihret Gelan, how do we know Popper's trilemma makes any sense?

My point being, for Popper to ask us to accept his trilemma as a true problem, he must think that we CAN conclude that these are the only three possibilities. But if we can resolve that question, then we must have some way to resolve the other issues that he says we can't!

Gene Callahan said...

Oh, and I don't see Augustinians / Berkeleyans have a real problem avoiding pantheism: this post is my IDEA, but I have no problem keeping it distinct from me!

Mihret Gelan said...

Gene, are you sure that there is no axiom at the bottom of your reasoning? If there is, is that axiom defendable? Is the defense of that axiom defendable and so on?

Anonymous said...

Therefore, they may say, because we are not certain that God exists, we have no reason to be wasting our lives on this stuff because there is equal amount of possibility that God does not exist.

Would they also say that there's an equal possibility that evolution is not true? If not, they're hypocrites. If so, let them say it.

Timocrates said...

@ Gelan,

That question is itself question begging. One cannot even ask it in the sense that asking it precludes even the possibility of its being formulated in the first place, as one must know and understand the ideas involved in the question. Therefore, when one asks the question, one cannot possibly subscribe to a skeptical answer.

Further, if one believes in "proofs" of anything (let alone demand one), one must first believe in the concept of what is self-evident or understood; otherwise, thinking itself would be pointless, let alone actually bothering to actually ask a question; and even more ridiculous, expecting an answer.

Some things cannot be given a "proof."

George LeSauvage said...

" Notoriously, it tends to lead to excess either in the direction of rigorism or in the direction of laxity. For if matter, and thus the body, is unreal, then you might conclude that all indulgence of bodily appetites is gravely evil, since it locks you into unreality; but you might also conclude that all such indulgence is morally trivial, since what happens in the body -- which is unreal -- cannot affect the real you."

True, but the thing that puzzles me to this day is that it seems possible to lead, simultaneously and in the same people, to both rigor and laxity. True today, as of the medieval Manichees. And I've never seen how this happens, only that it does.

Anonymous said...

Ed, I hope to see this make an appearance in your next natural law post:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rJFnuCkFShA

Daniel said...

@Ed,

Serendipitously I wrote a criticism of you and the good professor Oderberg’s ‘shadows’ account of Platonism a couple of days ago. With that in mind:

Constituent VS Relational Ontologies & Platonism VS Aristotelianism

En Garde!

(I agree about the need to affirm the Four Causes though)

Mihret Gelan said...

What I worry is this, in about 20 years and so, the primary attack on Christianity and apologetics or natural theology will be in the fact that ultimately we cannot prove the existence of God. In the final analysis, we are fideistic without our basic axioms of knowledge. Karl Popper and his very unknown disciple William Bartley III have tried to solve this trilemma by saying that we should give a new definition of knowledge. Bartley wrote a book called the Retreat to Commitment in which he outlines his theory of pancritical rationalism. In the end if this theory of knowledge becomes accepted, all the effort of Thomists to prove the existence of God and so forth... Is FUTILE. Vanity of vanities. The Summa Theologica and all the great works of the Thomists are futile because in the end, we can't absolutely for sure, so become pragmatists with knowledge. It is not so hard to extend Bartleys criticisms of the classical viewpoint of knowledge to show that the conclusion rational people should from this is Agnostics towards the existence of God and Pragmaticits toward science and so forth. We can use science to our advantage, but in the end we can never know so we are left agnostics. In the end of the day, I don't think Feser is wasting his time writing all these books about Scholasticism, Aquinas and so on.. In order to decimate atheists, but in order to build a seed in their hearts which God will then build into faith by grace. And Critical rationalists like Popper and William Bartley are the ultimate escapes for the atheists. In the end, the only reasonable position will be Agnosticism toward true knowledge, and pragmatism towards science and technology which although might not show truth, still are Useful and practical. I know I may seem obsessed with absolute proof, but it is only in anticipation for the future of this fundamental debate between theists and atheists. The trilemma I think has been buried alive without any philosopher truly answering to it. It has been ignored in my view so I thought Feser maybe had an answer since he always comes out as a hero in these kind of matters. I though Kants critique of pure reason was difficult to answer but Peter Coffey has given an adequate answer in his two volume on Epistemology. I think answering this trilemma is absolutely necessary if we are going to look at our efforts as not simply an EXERCISE IN FUTILITY.

Anonymous said...

Proving the existence of God vs proving the need for a belief in God to attain the highest good.

Interesting how Plato may have gotten it right that the seed contained the form or a little tree. You would not mistake the material world for God because the material is ruled by all type of law. The seed itself is genetic material which are in fact the laws which make the tree or each particle forms biblically speaking the jot and tittle of the tree.

Daniel said...

A quick note: an axiom is such that though it cannot be positively proven it can be known to be necessary by its denial leading to contradiction. This is why Scholastics have said we need not seek proofs for the first principles of logic or the PSR.

Vasco Gama said...

Gilean,

I agree with you "that ultimately we cannot prove the existence of God", but we can say that our belief that God exists is rational (and that is the point of Thomism), which is by far much more than an atheist can claim about his belief that God doesn't exist.

Vasco Gama said...

Gelan, so sorry, I noticed that I misspelled your name.

Anonymous said...

The same reasoning by which people say "Ultimately we cannot prove the existence of God" would also mean "Ultimately, we cannot prove the truth of evolutionary theory, the external world..." and so on.

Agnostics of this stripe tend to be extremely selective in just what agnosticisms to highlight.

Brandon said...

What I worry is this, in about 20 years and so, the primary attack on Christianity and apologetics or natural theology will be in the fact that ultimately we cannot prove the existence of God.

I am baffled by the notion that this is something we have to wait to happen in about 20 years; I would say it is easily the most common response to natural theology today, and has been for decades.

The trilemma is not a new thing; anyone can pick up Sextus Empiricus and read it right there on the page, and with fewer beggings of question (since the ancient skeptics at least recognized that the three branches were not, in fact, strictly exhaustive). Nor is it the sort of thing that in itself needs answer: it is a division of possibilities, and does not of itself rule out anything -- that has to be done by completely different arguments, which would need to stand on their own premises.

Mihret Gelan said...

Well Vasco,
It depends on how you define rationality. The agnostics may define in realistically by admitting that dogmatism to basic axioms is unsatisfactory. We can also define rationality the classical way which invokes fideism as its basis. In the end of the day, you have to be realistic and accept Poppers way out by the redefinition of human knowledge or fideistic about the axioms.

Gene Callahan said...

@Mihret Gelan: "Gene, are you sure that there is no axiom at the bottom of your reasoning? If there is, is that axiom defendable? Is the defense of that axiom defendable and so on?"

No, no, what I am saying is that there is an axiom at the bottom of Popper's reasoning! How can he "justify" facing us with his trilemma if justification is impossible?

Gene Callahan said...

@Mihret Gelan: "In the end of the day, you have to be realistic and accept Poppers way out..."

We have to, do we? Can you justify this statement?

Anonymous said...

Except Popper doesn't provide a "way out", Mihret. His own sorry "redefinition" of human knowledge is axiomatic.

This isn't new. Stop wasting your time with so-called philosophers who deny the self-evident. Aristotle called these people vegetables, and you don't listen to vegetables wax about philosophy. As a matter of fact, the peas and carrots on my plate are more useful than Popper and the "moderns"; at least *those* vegetables (the peas and carrots) have nutritional value.

Daniel D. D. said...

To be sure, and as I’ve indicated, if your emphasis is on the theme that the material world is really God, then you are bound to exaggerate the goodness of the material world, to the point of idolatry. However, if your emphasis is instead on the theme that the material world per se is unreal, then you are bound to minimize or even deny the goodness of the material world.

This reminds me of G. K. Chesterton's writings on the optimist and the pessimist, as well as his arguments against pantheism.

"The Greeks worshiped Nature, and became unnatural. They worshiped Man, and became unmanly." Pantheism starts out innocently, but ends with the knives of Baal, the fires of Moloch, the Drunken Parades of Bacchus, and the Cult of the Phallus.

Intellectually, I find pantheism to be the belief of those who find the idea of Divinity attractive yet do not wish to accept certain conceptions of God; also, pantheism's simplicity is very addicting. Don't you sometimes just want to say "All is God?" This simplicity especially appeals to moderns, who are raised on advertising slogans and political posters such as "Hope."

I never thought to define each shade of pantheism by reference to a denial of one (or more) Aristotelian causes. I find this rather enlightening. Of course, I'm a nobody, so what does my opinion matter?

Christi pax,

Lucretius

Daniel D. D. said...

Opps. I forgot that nature worship also ends with Ganymede. The Sexual Revolution will not be complete until pederasty is cultural acceptable once again.

I wish to meditate on the connections between relativism and pantheism as well.

Christi pax,

Lucretius

Mihret Gelan said...

Guys I'm a Christian to begin with. I sense that you guys think I'm an atheist trying to ramble about here with indirect attacks. @Gene well there is definitely an axiom to his reasoning but I think it's more of a warning. It is based on the skeptics motto, "Anything is possible in reality, therefore Assume nothing, question everything". Maybe there is theoretically a problem with that, but pragmatically or rather realistically, his conclusion seems more satisfying although I definitely agree with you that he has axioms in his reasoning as well. If there any other axioms that you can identify, please tell me. I'm sorry if I sounded arrogant, I wasn't trying to. I was more worried because in light of the trilemma, natural theology seemed like a useless passion and an exercise in futility. Somebody here appealed to Aristotle here, saying that Aristotle called these skeptics Vegetables. I agree, and I find that there must be some agenda in denying something so undeniable as the first principles, but in the end of the day insults and ridicule will not do.

Mihret Gelan said...

Well I can't stop worrying about those who deny the self evident because soon it will become apart of common culture. Plus, I'm here to give reason for the hope that is in me, to whoever shall ask, including Popper, although he is of course dead. As Shakespeare once said " the evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones" After the death of Immanuel Kant, his work began to take effect on Western Theoretical Thought. Popper just died 20 years ago, sooner or later, Popper and William Bartley will be seen as the modern David Hume and Immanuel Kant. And again, as Brandon said, the trilemma is a division of possibilities, it prima facie to me, doesn't seem to rest on any axiom except the seemingly realistic motto of the skeptic "anything is possible so assume nothing and question everything" That motto seems like it can be disputed but i want to know how?

Vasco Gama said...

Gelan,

I don´t want to enter in debate about rationality (it is beside the point, although it appears to me that you are just trying to justify a skeptic point of view contra realism).

I was addressing the fact that "ultimately we cannot prove the existence of God", that God exists we know it by faith (a faith that is rational, as demonstrated by Thomism and Catholic faith). This is not a weakness of Catholic faith, as I think you might imagine, in fact it is a strength, we, as humans, have a relationship with God that is based on faith (and dependent on that grace of God). Certainty about God’s existence would imply that, willing or not, any human (as a rational creature) would be obliged to believe in God (and then could be an unwilling servant), which is somehow incoherent with a benevolent and loving God.

The atheist (or the agnostic position for that matter) belief that God doesn't exist doesn't have and desn't need a rational argument, it is quite sufficient that one doesn't want to believe that God exists.

Mihret Gelan said...

@Brandon, I know this is not new at all, and that it goes back to the times of Sextus Empiricus and Agrippa, but it has been better formulated by Jakob Friedrich Fries, Hans Albert, and Karl Popper.

Anonymous said...

Ah, but even insults and ridicule rest on the first principle. And it's in this realization that Aristolte levies his simple yet unassailable attack on "modern" thought, while the fools continue to cry "assume nothing" (an axiom) and "everything needs proof" (an axiom). The poor things. They can't even make their foolish claims without the first principle.

It ain't name-calling as much as it's a proclamation of truth -- which, of course, is what that old pagan Aristotle and the Christian are interested in.

Mihret Gelan said...


@vasco, I told you I was a Christian. I have no agenda in my comments here accept for asking for help in dealing with a problem. Can't you just dialogue a bit and question your most fundamental axioms. Just participate in an old Socratic dialogue. Stop saying it seems like I'm trying to justify a skeptics view point because I'm not. Just being a devils advocate so that the theistic position may be come stronger and more in tact. I just want to dialogue, not enter into a debate. Again, I'm a Christian.

Mihret Gelan said...

@ people saying that Poppers reasoning is circular. I agree it is in a sense, but Jakob Fries who preceded Popper by like two centuries tried to solve this problem by suggesting a distinction. Here is an excerpt from the homepage of the Friesian school of thought: While Hegel and others concluded that this dilemma rendered Kant's argument ineffective, circular, or unnecessary, Fries solved the problem with a distinction that is now commonplace but is still rarely noted by those who have bothered to address Fries's system: the distinction between object language and meta-language, or between "system" and "critique." Thus, Fries would say that the object languages of metaphysics, ethics, etc., whose first principles would consist of synthetic a priori propositions, which in the case of ethics would also be propositions of value (with "ought") rather than propositions of fact (with "is"), are logically distinct from the meta-language description of them which is the actual content of Kant's "critique." Thus "critique" itself can be empirical a posteriori without this affecting in any way the a priori status of the object languages. Since "first principles," by Aristotle's own definition, cannot be proven anyway, we cannot understand Kantian "critique" to offer in any logically familiar sense a proof of synthetic a priori first principles. More detail on justification in this sense may be found in the essay cited above [note].

Vasco Gama said...

Gelan,

Sorry, I didn't saw your previous comment.

best regards

Anonymous said...

Yes, Fries tried to solve this problem by suggesting...more axioms.

:)

Mihret Gelan said...

Can you take this more seriously and be more specific in your reasoning against Fries. I found his solution on the homepage so first and I'm not saying this in an angry condescending tone, as it might seem, go to the fries page. Just search Jakob Fries and you will be able to notice it. His contribution to this problem is shown on the homepage. After you read it, can you please be more specific in your refutation and explain what Fries axioms are please

Anonymous said...

What else do you want? This has already been explained to you. Fries and his ilk have been "reasoned" against already, many thousands of years before they even existed.

Absolute skepticism is, to put it simply, a joke. Perhaps the "modern" feels the need to pen encyclopedia volumes on this absurd topic; but for (most) of the ancients, Scholastics, and the rest of us in this thread, it's "been there, found that rubbish".

Mihret Gelan said...

Can we dialogue over this so that I may understand better? I'm a Christian again, and you being more cooperative will be helpful. So how would you answer Fries distinction between object language and meta language. And how would you identify an axiom in that distinction.

Glenn said...

Craig Payne wrote:

You all might recall Joseph Campbell (no friend of Christianity, at all) and his conversation with a Hindu yogi, as reported by Campbell himself: "Given the oneness of the universe with the Ultimate," he said (my paraphrase from memory), "how can we resist evil? How do we say no to evil when even the evil is an expression of the Ultimate?" The Hindu yogi smiled and replied, "For you and me, the way to say no is to say yes."

"Radically divergent directions," indeed--to the point of incoherence. However, I assume the yogi would just tell me I hadn't reached enlightenment yet.


During my initial reading of the above, I most certainly, i.e., quite definitely, was brought up short by two things -- the notion that evil is an expression of the Ultimate, and the notion that we can resist evil by saying 'yes' to it.

But then I saw how the first notion can be repaired, and how the second notion might be understood.

How the first notion can be repaired

If the Ultimate is another name for God, and evil is an expression of the Ultimate, then evil is an expression of God. God, however, is not evil. Therefore, evil is not an expression of God.

Nonetheless, if in lieu of saying that "evil is an expression of the Ultimate", it were to be said that "evil is [not possible without] an expression of the Ultimate", then we'd have a statement the truth of which might not be so easy to impeach.

We know (from q 12 a 3 ad 2 of the supplement to ST III here) that "the cause of evil...is nothing else than a defective good". But since no good can be defective unless it first exists, and existent good comes from God (the 'Ultimate'), it follows that without good from God, evil would not be possible (as a consequence of some good from God being rendered defective in or by a creature).

How the second notion might be understood

I identified the second notion in this way: "we can resist evil by saying 'yes' to it."

This way of putting the second notion, however, does not accurately reflect what was reported to have been said.

The reported question put to the yogi was, "How do we say no to evil?" And the yogi's response, was, "The way to say no is to say yes."

Clearly, the yogi did not say that the way to resist evil is to say 'yes' to evil, but that the way to resist evil is to say 'yes'--period, end of story.

If saying 'yes' can be, and is to be, a legitimate way of saying 'no' to evil, then it must be good, i.e., it cannot be other than good, to which 'yes' is actually said.

On this interpretation of the yogi's amphibolous response, 'no' can be said indirectly to evil, i.e., evil might be resisted, by way of 'yes' being said directly to good (Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12 21).

- - - - -

Hm.

After writing the above, I discover that the man queried by Campbell had atheist inclinations from an early age, studied law and went to work for the police before becoming a yogi. And that, after having become a yogi, he continued to work for the police for an additional 15 years or so, during which time he was recognized for his successful work prosecuting criminal cases.

If this biographical info re the degreed-prosecutor/Hindu-yogi is true, then it would be puzzling -- quite puzzling, indeed -- that he should have held that evil can be resisted by saying yes to evil.

But it seems more likely that he held that evil can be resisted by saying 'yes' to the upholding of natural law and order, as well as to the upholding of law and order of the spiritual kind.

Anonymous said...

Mihret,

Can you take this more seriously and be more specific in your reasoning against Fries.

Hey there. Let me try to explain what I think is going on here.

The trilemma you spoke of isn't really a trilemma, in that you always need axioms. Always. The reply of, "But if you always need axioms, you can't ever be 100% totally certain that you're right" just doesn't bother many people, and isn't taken seriously even by people who talk about it, for reasons already noted.

I think you're hoping for a deeper, more drawn out discussion here, but the matter's resolved a bit quicker than that. (As the other anon seems to be saying.) The ultimate rejoinder here seems to be, 'But you may be wrong!' Okay, but that applies to everyone and everything if we're willing to be as open to those broad possibilities, and I think for any atheist or skeptic, the price of being consistent here would be way too high. (Again: "Maybe evolution is true. Or maybe not. Who's to say!")

Mihret Gelan said...

Exactly, but when it comes to deciding between believing in a Holy God who holds them accountable for their evil and choosing a scientific theory, they will become agnostics and say science is pragmatic but does not provide absolute truth. Nobody will have a difficult time saying evolution is not absolutely true, but it is still pragmatic or useful Somehow just like the theory of gravity or magnetism is helpful although it may not be true.

Anonymous said...

Mihret,

Nobody will have a difficult time saying evolution is not absolutely true, but it is still pragmatic or useful

That goes against all available evidence. That above line is the exact thing that many creationists can (and in some cases, do) say, and to say it's rejected by atheists is an understatement.

If you don't believe me, go to any atheist forum and ask, 'You all agree that for all we know evolution and common descent is false, in fact it's equally likely that it's false or true, but maybe we have some pragmatic uses for it and that's why we rely on it, right?' Tell me how that goes over. The absolute most anyone will say is that evolutionary theory is incomplete, or may be incidentally wrong here or there.

The very foundations and practice of science requires, explicitly or implicitly, the axioms that also point at God's existence. What skeptics tend to do is not say 'we have no idea, so let's be fideists with maybe a pragmatic bend'. They just develop serious blindspots and dogmatically ignore the problems they have.

The axioms being used here are foundational ones, not even very controversial except to those hellbent on denying God exists at all costs. And those people aren't going to be convinced, because a denial is always possible. You can even deny 2 + 2 = 4 if you can put 'I am wrong' out of your head, and some people seem capable of doing that.

Scott said...

@Mihret Gelan:

Therefore, they may say, because we are not certain that God exists, we have no reason to be wasting our lives on this stuff because there is equal amount of possibility that God does not exist.

Perhaps I'm missing something, but I don't see how any of this would follow even if we granted the truth of the proposed trilemma. In the first place, I see no reason why axioms can't be known with certainty. In the second place, even if they couldn't, I don't see why it would follow that, under an axiomatic account, God's existence and non-existence would be equally probable.

So "they may say" it, but as far as I can see they wouldn't have any good reasons for saying it. (And that's if we ignore the fact that the assertion itself apparently undermines any confidence they might place in it.)

Anonymous said...

That fact that Fries wants to make any distinction or seeks to lay down any foundation for knowledge tells you all that you need to know.

Skeptics already appeal to the first principle (non-contradiction) that they claim to reject. We all do, like it or not.

Matthew Gaetano said...

As one thinks about the subject of this post, Aquinas' reply to David of Dinant seems more and more prescient.

Here: http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1003.htm#article8 and here: http://dhspriory.org/thomas/ContraGentiles1.htm#17.

Mihret Gelan said...

@anonymous Yes I know as of right now everybody sees evolution as the truth but it is probable that in the future, near future, that somebody may come to question the first principles when they come to understand that it points to God. What is worse for the atheist? A Holy and All-Righteous and Just God or the denial of the ultimate truthfulness of evolution, while being able to accept its practicality. I would, if I was an atheist, choose the latter. And when people start choosing the latter and denying the ultimate truthfulness of scientific theories, being increasingly more bent towards it's practicality, people will argue that due to the ultimate impossibility to prove axioms or solve the trilemma and so on.. This fact entail secularism since we cannot have personal, ethical or moral , and civil implications depending on the existence of God which depends on arbitrary axioms

Anonymous said...

Mihret,

> A Holy and All-Righteous and Just God or the denial of the ultimate truthfulness of evolution, while being able to accept its practicality. I would, if I was an atheist, choose the latter.

You don't mean if you were an atheist. You mean if you were hellbent on denying theism. But if you are, nothing's stopping you.

> which depends on arbitrary axioms

EVERYthing 'depends on arbitrary axioms' according to the view you're espousing, and there's no 'entailment' without yet another axiom. You may as well say that according to the view you espouse, theocracy or sharia law is entailed.

Regardless, you went from saying that this is something atheists do, to something you think atheists will do. Because you think atheists are entirely enamored with giving up even the dishonest appearance of a moral high ground, particularly where science is concerned?

You are proposing a future, not a present. And it's not a future that concerns me too much, since a future where everyone has decided to throw out all axioms and that truth and falsity is all 'just, like, an opinion, man', if sincere, will not last long, and if insincere, means the problem isn't intellectual so much as cultural after all.

Scott said...

@Mihret Gelan:

[P]eople will argue that due to the ultimate impossibility to prove axioms or solve the trilemma and so on.

And if they do, as I said a few posts up, their arguments will be wrong*. And?

----

* Even aside from the obvious fact that to whatever extent they're arguments, they rest on the axiomatic Principle of Non-Contradiction.

Scott said...

@Mihret Gelan:

This fact entail secularism since we cannot have personal, ethical or moral , and civil implications depending on the existence of God which depends on arbitrary axioms

I don't mean to be obtuse here, but are you expressing your own opinion or merely summarizing an opinion you think someone else may express?

In case it's the latter, I should perhaps mention that it's the de fide teaching of the Church that God can be demonstrated conclusively through natural reason alone from created things. No faithful Catholic can accept that those demonstrations are inconclusive because they rest on "arbitrary" axioms like the Principles of Non-Contradiction and Causality.

If (as I hope and believe) it's the former, then I don't quite understand why you're still looking for a way out of the trilemma. That's been given, repeatedly. Do we still need to go on and talk specifically about Fries? If so, why?

Scott said...

(I should probably have said "such demonstrations" rather than "those demonstrations," as I wasn't referring to any specific proofs or arguments. Aquinas's are of course the most obvious choices, but I was most definitely not implying that all faithful Catholics must specifically accept those demonstrations—merely that there are some demonstrations that succeed, and that whatever they are, they'll rest on axioms.)

Mihret Gelan said...

No I'm a Christian

Mihret Gelan said...

Can you guys just direct me to literature that shows the faults in Fries or Popper. This is sincere question. I am a high schooler and not some professional philosophers. But I'm a Christian. Do you know of any good literature(s) on this topic

Mihret Gelan said...

I don't know how many times I have to say this, I'm a Christian. Is it not better for us that we ask all the questions we can ask about our faith in anticipation of future skeptics. If Aquinas for example would have known what kind of culture we would be living in 700 years after his death or even 100 years after his death, defending the Church would have become easier if we worked in anticipation and not like secularists only care about the present as if only that's the only thing there is.

Mihret Gelan said...

You hope the former? You hope I'm an atheist?

Mihret Gelan said...

Yes, and with the pervasive influences of philosophies like existentialism, people will become more bent towards what they feel, and towards what's intellectual. Do you just like to sit at home and worry about your own faith, or try to anticipate what near future generations will have to deal with. The Thomistic arguments I agree are conclusive but what matters at this point is how do we deal with the increasing amount of skeptics. At least that what's seems to me to be the problem. Stop cynically and implicitly implying that I am bent toward this absurd skepticism. If you care about this issue and have answers to it, can you write something more formal and conclusive or at the least direct me to literature that does so

Mihret Gelan said...

Typo not towards what's intellectual but towards what they feel (existentialism)

Mihret Gelan said...

Oh, you were assuming I was a catholic. No, I'm not catholic, but I think Catholics have always been the best philosophers of the universal Church.

Scott said...

@Mihret Gelan:

You hope the former? You hope I'm an atheist?

Oops, no, sorry; I thought I'd listed the two things in the other order and reversed "latter" and "former." I meant that I hope you're only summarizing an argument you think someone else might make.

Scott said...

@Mihlet Gelan:

Oh, you were assuming I was a catholic.

If this is addressed to me, then no, I was not assuming that. Quite the contrary, in fact.

Craig Payne said...

Dear Glenn: Thanks for your research on the Campbell incident.

You could be right in your analysis. I have always assumed that the Hindu response entailed something like the following:

There exists an Ultimate which is all-good.
This Ultimate is also all-powerful.
Evil, then, does not exist.

I could try to match this up with Thomism by the argument that being is good and evil is a privation of being, not a thing in itself, but I don't think that would work. Even if only in a functional sense, rather than ontological, evil has a SORT of existence.

Scott said...

@Mihret Gelan:

I found his solution on the homepage[.]…Go to the fries page.

By "the homepage" and "the fries page," do you mean Kelley Ross's Friesian site?

Scott said...

(I apologize for misspelling your name "Mihlet" a couple of posts back.)

Mihret Gelan said...

Yes it was addressed to you. I assumed that you assumed that I was a Catholic, because it seemed otherwise, you would appeal to the fact that the demonstrability of the existence of God was a de fide teaching of the Church

Mihret Gelan said...

It is something like Friesian.com

Mihret Gelan said...

Yes, it is. Do you already know it?

Scott said...

@Mihret Gelan:

I assumed that you assumed that I was a Catholic, because it seemed otherwise, you would [not?] appeal to the fact that the demonstrability of the existence of God was a de fide teaching of the Church

I understand. But no, I mentioned it just because it is the teaching of the Church, and knowing what the Church teaches (and why) is at least as important for non-Catholic Christians as it is for Catholics.

Yes, it is. Do you already know it?

To a certain extent. I was fairly familiar with some parts of it at one time but I haven't looked at it in years. I'm afraid I don't know it well enough to have an opinion on Fries-as-interpreted-by-Ross with respect to your questions.

Mihret Gelan said...

What is your opinion on Fries?

Scott said...

I like them with ketchup.

:-)

Glenn said...

Craig Payne,

Thank you for the response.

I have always assumed that the Hindu response entailed something like the following:

There exists an Ultimate which is all-good.
This Ultimate is also all-powerful.
Evil, then, does not exist.

I could try to match this up with Thomism by the argument that being is good and evil is a privation of being, not a thing in itself, but I don't think that would work. Even if only in a functional sense, rather than ontological, evil has a SORT of existence.


Some thoughts:

According to the little I know of Hindu philosophy, i.e., according to a vague recollection of the little I used to know of Hindu philosophy, it does reject the existence of evil as a thing-in-itself, but does not reject the existence of evil as a distortion or misshapen appearance of the Ultimate.

On this account, then, it seems that a matchup with Thomism might work -- at least in a general way.

But I also vaguely recollect something else, something which puts the kibosh on the viability of that general matchup.

Hindu philosophy -- or at least one system of Hindu philosophy -- has good in the same boat as evil. Not so much that good, like evil, is a distortion or misshapen appearance of the Ultimate, but that, like evil, good is merely an appearance of the Ultimate.

That is, the Ultimate is held to be beyond both good and evil, with neither good nor evil existing as a thing-in-itself, and each of good and evil being naught but a deceptive appearance.

And that certainly flies in the face of Thomism.

(For example: good-bye First Way. (To which I say, "Thank you, no."))

John H said...

I'd be interested in people's (Scott's) take on the "perspectival hylomorphism" described here. http://ndpr.nd.edu/news/59331-the-double-lives-of-objects-an-essay-in-the-metaphysics-of-the-ordinary-world/

It seems inferior to classical hyl[e? o?]morphism. The review mentions that the book has a section contrasting classical and perspectival, but doesn't give any details.

Scott said...

@John H:

(For convenience I've turned the URL into a live link in my quotation.)

I'd be interested in people's (Scott's) take on the "perspectival hylomorphism" described here. http://ndpr.nd.edu/news/59331-the-double-lives-of-objects-an-essay-in-the-metaphysics-of-the-ordinary-world/

Thanks for your interest in my opinion. This is the first I'm hearing of "perspectival" hyleoeoeo… um, -morphism, so I'll have to read the review before commenting. I may not have time to do that today or tomorrow, so here I'm just letting you know that I saw your post and I'll make time to reply in a day or three.

John H said...

Thanks Scott, much appreciated.

Scott said...

Well, at first look I'm not at all sure why Sattig is calling his metaphysics "hylomorphism"; if I'm reading the review correctly, he thinks a statue of Athena consists of a mere sum of atoms in a certain arrangement plus a humongous compound fact about the history of that arrangement over time; the latter, Sattig to the contrary notwithstanding, doesn't seem to me even to be any part of the statue itself. Whatever plausibility this might have as a version of hylomorphism seems to evaporate when we try to apply it to a living thing; does Sattig think a cat, for example, is nothing but a bunch of atoms arranged catwise plus a compound fact about the history of that arrangement? Even assuming I thought that were a plausible account of what a cat is (which I don't), I don't see what makes it "hylomorphism." In short, I see hylo- but no -morph.

But that's just my response after one partial skim. I'll keep reading.

Bob said...

@Scott

Even assuming I thought that were a plausible account of what a cat is (which I don't), I don't see what makes it "hylomorphism." In short, I see hylo- but no -morph.

Why don't you think it is plausible?

Seems to me that the "history of the arrangement" of this or that bunch of matter is actually a pretty good stab at a meaningful definition of form.

Scott said...

@Bob:

Seems to me that the "history of the arrangement" of this or that bunch of matter is actually a pretty good stab at a meaningful definition of form.

It's not awful for a statue, but I don't think it works for a cat. But I'd rather not sidetrack the thread into a full-blown discussion of its merits (or otherwise). We're already a bit off-topic in bringing this up at all, and in any case I haven't read (and can't easily afford to buy) the book; we're working entirely from a book review here, and you seem to working only from my own post about that review.

Glenn said...

Scott is correct in his observation that Aristotelian form is missing from Sattig's (version of) 'hylomorphism'.

As mentioned in the review, "Perspectival hylomorphism is the conjunction of two theses" -- the second of which is 'perspectivalism', and the first of which is not 'hylomorphism' but 'quasi-hylomorphism'.

The prefixing of 'qausi-' to 'hylomorphism' is an immediate, huge and blatant clue that something of the usual understanding of 'hylomorphism' likely is either missing or so altered as to be effectively missing.

Indeed, it is the '-morphism' half of 'hylomorphism' which is 'morphed' under or by Sattig's 'perspectival hylomorphism'.

Sattig's position is that Aristotelian forms are, at least sometimes, "metaphysically suspect", and appealing to or applying them can lead to problems.

He also thinks the problems led to by application of or appeal to "metaphysically suspect Aristotelian forms" can be cleared up by replacing the Aristotelian notion of form with another notion of form.

The notion of form used by Sattig includes the following:

a) form is not internal to an object;
b) an object does not have a single form;
c) an object has multiple forms;
d) each form of an object is externally imposed;
e) the forms of an object may be at odds with one another; and,

(...drum roll...)

f) each form of an object is a description of the object from one or another perspective.

Except the bit about quasi-hylomorphism, which I got from the review, my understanding of the notion of form used by Sattig is based on an interview with him -- an excerpt from which is as follows:

"The crux is that an ordinary object is more than a material object. It is a compound of a material object and multiple, 'superimposed' forms. For Aristotelians, forms have the function of unifying a complex entity internally. Accordingly, they wouldn't countenance entities with multiple forms. In my framework, forms don't have that function, and so the way is clear for multiplicity. Now, each form of a mountain encodes its own mereological profile. And when the different forms of a mountain disagree on whether a given rock counts as a part, then the mountain is mereologically indeterminate. This is vagueness in the object itself. But it doesn't run deep, because all facts about superimposed forms have a simpler, indeterminacy-free explanation. Fundamentally, I claim, objects don't have any indeterminate parts."

Glenn said...

(1. "which I got from" s/b "which is straight from".

(2. Actually, I am rather doubtful that Aristotelian forms themselves can be applied by humans (and am just as confident that an understanding of the same can be).)

Bob said...

Thanks Glenn, that sounds about right.

Scott, you can read quite a bit of the book on Google books, if you do not have access otherwise.

Scott said...

@Bob:

Good to know. Thanks.

@Glenn:

Excellent; thanks for following up. Your item (a) in particular (" form is not internal to an object") confirms what I suspected when I wrote that his " humongous compound fact about the history of that arrangement over time…doesn't seem to me even to be any part of the statue itself" [emphasis added].

@John H:

I think Glenn has already covered anything I might have added (and with better information than I had), so for the time being I'll add my ditto to his comments. Of course if there's anything else in particular you'd like me to comment on, just let me know and I will if I can. (From what Bob says it sounds as though I can at least access enough of the text to be entitled to an opinion!)

Glenn said...

For the record, Scott's initial response to John H functioned as a helpful stabilizer as I went through the Sattig interview (and when I later put together my comment).

John H said...

Scott and Glen, thank you very much for your comments. Too bad, I was hoping it might have been a more serious step in the direction of Aristotelian/Thomist philosophy.

Scott said...

Yeah, that would have been nice. Doesn't look like it, though. Anyway, you're welcome.

Yohan said...

"The arguments that show that God exists also show (we Aristotelian-Scholastic types claim) that he is utterly distinct from the world."

How does this square with Fesser's statements that God sustains the world? If God sustains reality, then does this not mean that everything is contained within the mind of God, and nothing can be outside him?

Maybe I read too much into the phrase 'utterly distinct' and Fesser just means a unique identify, but it sure does seem like he is saying there is a separation between God and the world.

Veranon said...

Pantheism essential implies a substantial rather than an essential identity of the creation with the uncreated. Or in other words, it implies that the creation is a part of God.

According to the famous words of the Gospel of St. John, all things are made by the Word; moreover, all things are in reality known by it, since it is the "true Light." And further, the principial possibilities of all things are necessarily eternally contained in the Divine Word.

The Word "was God," and is "with God." This indicates two degrees of causality. The former refers to the ontological or creative Principle; the latter refers to its efficient prolongation as the efficient cause of the cosmos as well as its governing or ordering and sustaining principle--the "spirit of God" which moved over "the waters." The Logos is the Mediator: both uncreated and created, although admittedly theology tends to bracket this mystery, as it is not susceptible of dogmatic formulation. Theology is there to defend interests, whereas metaphysics is an objective description, preferably in symbolical form rather than dialectical, which has the disadvantage of appearing to make supraformal truth subject to syllogisms.

At any rate, in relation to the world, according to traditional metaphysics, pure Being is polarized into materia prima or universal substance and and forma or the essential pole of Being. Thus, the essence of a particular being has always its archetype in the Word, which is its permanent possibility.

Aristotle, in conformity with his perspective and method, does not transpose the idea of essence to its metacosmic principle. Yet his hylemorphism implies metaphysical reality, and is not merely a rationalist construction. Plato and Aristotle are in conflict only on the rational plane. Medieval sages rightly ascribed "science" to Aristotle and "wisdom" to Plato.

If the objects of the senses are "shadows," "reflections," that is because they are, in the last analysis, symbols of true realities in God. They are "vestigia Dei." The cosmos is a theophany. This presupposes the understanding that while Reality is one, it nevertheless comprises degrees of relative reality, and God alone is absolutely Real; or more precisely, Divine Reality in its pure Ipseity or Aseity alone is absolutely Real. Relativity begins in divinis with the ontological Principle, since creation implies relationship, hence otherness. This is Eckhart's distinction between Gott and Gottheit; this supreme polarity, the summit of relativity, is the prefiguration in divinis of the cosmic creation. To the objection that this implies pantheism, the reply is that either creation is essentially identical with its Divine Cause or it is autonomous. The doctrine of the Word clearly implies the essential--not substantial--unity of creation and its Divine Cause.

Unknown said...

Looking for an essentiast critique of deification as Gregory Palamas understood it.

Sergei said...

@ Unknown re: Looking for an essentiast critique of deification as Gregory Palamas understood it.

http://sacredweb.com/online_articles/sw6_stoddart.pdf